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Danica Patrick has to start fighting back

Published August 27, 2012

If Danica Patrick wants to survive in NASCAR, she’s going to have to start fighting back.

She’s been wrecked, or nearly wrecked, in every Sprint Cup race she’s started this year.

Saturday night, it was obvious she was just getting too uppity – it was late in the race and she was on the lead lap and closing in on a strong top 20 finish (in the two Cup races she’d actually finished earlier this year, she was no threat to anybody) – so Regan Smith just went up the track and ran into her for no particular reason other than she was there and he felt like taking her out.

Now, NASCAR’s veterans think it’s hilarious to initiate rookies, particularly drivers who aren’t regulars.  But it’s time for her to show them that enough is enough.

My advice to her today is simple: the next Sprint Cup start she gets, dump somebody. Pick a target and put him into the wall. Just do it. Send a warning to every driver out there: mess with me and I’m coming right back at ya.

Her boss, Tony Stewart, would approve, I’m sure. He let Matt Kenseth know how he felt on Saturday night. Yes, it was a little over the top when he threw his helmet at Kenseth after the two of them got together and crashed, but you can bet that Kenseth will have second thoughts about getting too close to Tony Stewart again this season.

And yes, I know Matt Kenseth is a tough guy in his own right and Tony Stewart didn’t exactly throw the fear of God into him with his little hissy fit. However, don’t ever kid yourself that Matt Kenseth won’t be thinking from now on about the possibility of getting wrecked every time Stewart goes to pass him or he goes to pass Stewart. Intimidation is the name of the game in big-league stock car racing and everybody has to learn how to play and that includes Danica Patrick.

Of course, if she starts fighting back on the track, that could open up another can of worms in the pits.

NASCAR drivers have been known to get physical. Not often, but it happens. Would anybody be foolish enough to take a swing at Patrick? Would she be foolish enough to take a swing at another driver? It’s not likely to happen – but it could.

And here’s another thing that some of those drivers would be wise to internalize: do any of them really want to be the driver whose deliberate actions result in her suffering a serious injury? Or worse?

The only time NASCAR will ever be on the front page of the New York Times is if Danica Patrick wins a race or, God forbid, what happened to Dan Wheldon happens to her.

I guarantee you that would be a disaster for NASCAR.

It is 2012 and sponsors might want to be associated with car racing on one hand but, on the other, they sure don’t want to be associated with a sport in which people are killed. Ten years ago, or 20, it was okay. Not any more.

IZOD has disappeared completely from the IndyCar series and that came about precisely because of what happened to Wheldon. The only reason IZOD’s name is still associated with that series is because of the contract.

And the same thing could happen to NASCAR if anything happened to Patrick.

Racing is racing and she’s out there taking her chances with everybody else. And when you have cars travelling in a pack at 150 or 200 miles an hour, negative things can and do happen.

But the next time somebody like Regan Smith sees Patrick and figures she’s an easy target, she might be – but to then take advantage of the situation might wind up doing far more harm to the sport than anybody realizes.

Patrick can help herself, and the sport, by letting everybody know now that it’s time to lay off.

Oh, yeah: Denny Hamlin survived Bristol to win the Cup race. Jimmie Johnson was second and Jeff Gordon was third. Click here for story and results. There are two races left until the Chase field is set. Time for some people to get serious.

Friday night, Joey Logano won the Nationwide Series race – his sixth in that series this season. Click here for story and results.

Next weekend’s TV schedule illustrates perfectly why Randy Bernard is so keen to get IZOD IndyCar Series races off of TSN and onto one of Rogers Sportsnet ‘s national channels next year.

The Baltimore Grand Prix goes to the post next Sunday at 2:30 p.m. TSN has CFL football on the main channel that afternoon and U.S. Open tennis on TSN2. So they’re full up, it appears.

Rogers has a national channel plus four regional channels and their purchase of The Score this weekend will soon give them a second national channel.

So I will be surprised if all of the Indy car races in 2013 aren’t available live and in colour on one of Sportsnet’s national channels and I trust Bernard won’t sign a contract until he has that guarantee.

Meantime, I will likely listen to the Baltimore race in my car on my XM Satellite radio. Mike King and Davey Hamilton do a good job announcing. I discovered this when I was driving home from the drag races at Toronto Motorsport Park on a Saturday night in June and tuned into the Indy car race from Iowa Speedway.

It was kinda nice that night, bombing along Highway 6 South with the cruise control and the radio both on. The drag races had been terrific, the moon was bright and although I’d hoped to be home in time to watch the race on TV, the King-Hamilton broadcast on XM meant I didn’t miss a thing.

Now, I don’t want to be too critical of TSN. They reacted really well last year when I complained that they had filler stuff on TSN2 the second day of Indianapolis 500 time trials. Low and behold, somebody was paying attention and they threw out all the recorded stuff and put the time trials on live.

And next Sunday, they are televising the F1 race from Belgium in the morning and the very important NASCAR race from Atlanta on Sunday night. So thank you for that.

But do we really need 11 hours of U.S. Open tennis? Starting at 11 a.m. and continuing to 11 p.m. except for an hour of SportsCentre at 6? And this isn’t even the finals. We’re talking the third round here.

Is there no way to sneak in two hours of car racing at 2:30 in the afternoon (we can skip all the pre-race stuff)? Except for the people watching the race, I betcha hardly anyone will notice. . .

Meantime, the race from Sonoma yesterday – which was shown live at 4 p.m. on TSN2 (hooraaayyy!!!) – featured some great driving (winner Ryan Briscoe was perfect from start to finish and his pit crew was even better, essentially winning him the race at the last pit stop), some really sloppy driving (Helio Castroneves clipping Scott Dixon, Alex Tagliani knocking Ryan Hunter-Reay out of contention) and one of the scariest crashes seen in recent years.

Will Power finished second and, with two races remaining in the 2011 season, seems to be heading toward his first national IndyCar championship. He currently holds a 36-point lead over second-place Hunter-Reay with Castroneves five points further back. Dario Franchitti was third and F1 refugee Rubens Barrichello had an IndyCar career-high finish of fourth.

The crash featured veteran Sebastien Bourdais and rookie Josef Newgarden. Bourdais lost his steering and, unable to control his car, essentially pushed Newgarden off the track and into a retaining wall that was protected by several rows of tires.

As ex-racer, team owner and colour commentator Robbie Buhl noted, the combination of the tires and the HANS device likely saved Newgarden from serious harm.

He did suffer an injury to one of his fingers because he held onto the steering wheel instead of letting it go. Remember the ribbing Danica took when she crashed for the first time in NASCAR and an in-car camera showed her letting go? Now they all do, because there’s a reason for it and Josef Newgarden’s broken finger illustrates exactly why.

James Hinchcliffe of Oakville had a rotten weekend and dropped out with mechanical problems. He was credited with 26th place in the 27-car race.

One last thing about the Indy car race. Hunter-Reay was the victim when Tagliani went up the inside during a late-race restart and couldn’t stop, hitting RHR, spinning him around and really hurting his chances for the championship. But moments later, RHR ran into E.J. Viso and spun him around.

After the race, Hunter-Reay went to see Tagliani to “discuss” the incident between them. I was kinda hoping Viso would show up to give hell to Hunter-Reay for running into him – but no such luck.

Oh, Chevrolet clinched the engine manufacturer’s championship when Briscoe crossed the finish line and Simon Pagenaud won rookie of the year. However, Pagenaud is a former Champ Car World Series driver and a veteran of the American Le Mans Series so, in my books, he ain’t no rookie.

Click here for full story and results.

Other weekend racing:

– Uxbridge native Alex Welsh captured his first career Canadian Pro Superbike victory Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. It was one of the most exciting Superbike finishes in series history.

Jordan Szoke of Brantford, who won his record eighth national title on Saturday, finished second and Kevin Lacombe of St-Cesaire, Que., finished third.

The three riders went back-and-forth for all 20 laps before Welsh went low on the last turn to squeeze past and take the checkered flag.

Lacombe was later disqualified for a technical violation. Bodhi Edie of Warman, Sask., was elevated to a podium finish.

In Moto GP action at the circuit in Brno, Czech Republic, Dani Pedrosa beat Jorge Lorenzo to the line in another thriller.

By the way, the photo at the top of this report was taken by John Walker and shows Alex Welsh leading Jordan Szoke and the rest of the Canadian Pro Superbike field.

– Canada’s Robert Wickens played bumper cars on the first lap of the German Touring Car Series (DTM) race at Zandvoort, Holland, on Sunday and a 12th-place qualifying effort for Mercedes went for naught.

As Autosport.com reported, Wickens and Miguel Molina collided twice on the run to the first corner; the Spaniard ending up beached in the gravel at the Tarzan turn, while the Canadian was spun by Christian Vietoris two turns later and collected within seconds by Rahel Frey. All three retired.

The race was won by Edoardo Mortara in an Audi. Canadian Bruno Spengler finished sixth for BMW to keep his championship hopes alive.

– Audi won the manufacturers championship in the first year of the new FIA World Endurance Championship when Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler drove their Audi e-tron quattro the 2012 Six Hours of Silverstone on Sunday.

– It’s hardly worth mentioning . . . but Sebastien Loeb won his seventh World Rally Championship event of the season, and his fifth straight, when he won the German Rally for the ninth time at the weekend. When I say it’s hardly worth mentioning, what I mean is: who else?

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